Why We Struggle to Love our Neighbor

Facebook and Twitter were a tragedy yesterday. As the debate on marriage equality raged on, people felt that social media was the best avenue to vent their stance on the situation. Christians felt justified in doing it, like if Jesus were here today, He would take the time to post on Facebook His view on marriage equality. And supporters of marriage equality felt they were also justified, as if one passionate reply to a status could change the course of how the greater public perceived the situation. But all I saw was hate. Hate reaching across borders and building further fortifications to the divisive society we live in. It was disgusting. But I feel like I can have a say in this. So this is what I have to say to my fellow Christian brothers and sisters. If you are not Christian, please read on, because maybe you might see for yourself where we might fail in representing Christ, and practice grace yourself.

We live in an age of debate, where being right might sometimes trump our (Christians’) reason for being right: to save the unsaved. In dialogue, we fail to promote the communication necessary to help those who are either weak in the faith or have no faith at all. It’s almost a fact of life, that whenever we hear something we don’t like, we sometimes slam the door in the face of those situations that reach across borders. Controversy is not a foreign concept to many Christians in today’s society. But how we deal with controversy is what gets us into trouble.

So many people characterize us as wielding a sword to our convictions when we approach a situation that reaches across our Christian borders. An example of such a situation in the Bible comes when Peter slashes off the ear of the guard who came to arrest Jesus in Luke 22:50. This is a situation that reached across borders: a disciple of Christ engaging an unbeliever. The secular mind believes we are inclined to go chopping ears off when we hear something we don’t agree with. But just like how Jesus healed the situation in the following verse, I believe there is a way to heal this perception about Christians, and it comes in recognizing our inability to obey the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.

We struggle to love our neighbor. When someone says something we don’t agree with, we fail to be loving in that situation. Why is this?

While most people might believe that we struggle to love our neighbor because we don’t know who our neighbor is, I find this not to be the case. We struggle to love our neighbor because we fear conformity. We fear that our neighbor demands us to conform to their way of thinking.

In Luke 10:25-37, a man (seemingly a Pharisee) asks Jesus the question of who is his neighbor. What ensues is a story centered around this question. A man is beaten on the dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho and is left for dead. A priest and a Levite practice a lack of love and pass right by him. Shockingly enough to Jesus’ audience, a Samaritan comes by and helps the man.

The interesting thing about this story is that the priest and the Levite don’t help the man because they fear a sort of contamination. Their religious system doesn’t allow them to contaminate themselves with the impurity of a dead body (even though the man was in a half-dead state). Helping this man would be conforming to his impurity and would be contrary to their religious system.

This fear of conforming is echoed in our society today. We don’t want to act in a way contrary to our religious system. We don’t want to betray our convictions. This leads us to hold fast to our beliefs over people.

But maybe we need to re-center ourselves to see that our convictions are not to take precedence over people, but rather be there to save people.

Now it is important to understand that our beliefs (especially our belief in Jesus Christ) are what make us who we are. This is why, when someone offends our faith, we typically tend to act emotionally first. We are simply reacting out of our ego (self) or who we are. The problem comes when the other party does not understand what we believe in. Therefore, they can’t understand our emotions. It’s gets translated to them as unnecessary dogmatism. Our encounter then devolves into bickering, and nothing gets accomplished, all because we (or maybe the other party) reacts out of ego.

But in doing this, we find that we are just like the Pharisee from this parable. He was reacting out of his own ego and self-righteousness. This is what prompted him to want to try and justify his harsh treatment of foreigners.

When we react out of ego, we want to justify how we belligerently defend our faith in the midst of controversy. What we need is to humble our ego and engage the situation in a language that both parties can understand- healthy discussion.

If this parable on loving your neighbor teaches us anything, it is that you don’t have to compromise beliefs to show compassion and grace. It is in humbling our ego that we start bringing healing to the situation. It is this very same humility that allowed the Samaritan to come to the aid of the beaten man and Jesus to heal the ear of the soldier. Humility and the courage to confront a fear of conformity is what we need to face the debates of today’s cultures. So as the debate goes on, let us reach out with the hand of humility that allows us to bring healing into the situation.

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